The Washington Supreme Court says public libraries may filter out porn sites from their computers without violating the state’s strong constitutional guarantees of free speech.
In a 6-3 decision, the court said:
“A public library has traditionally and historically enjoyed broad discretion to select materials to add to its collection of printed materials for its patrons’ use. We conclude that the same discretion must be afforded a public library to choose what materials from millions of Internet sites it will add to its collection and make available to its patrons.
A public library has never been required to include all constitutionally protected speech in its collection and has traditionally had the authority, for example, to legitimately decline to include adult-oriented material such as pornography in its collection. This same discretion continues to exist with respect to Internet materials.”
The case grew out of the filtering policy used by the Wenatchee-based North Central Regional Library, who has 28 branches and serves school districts and patrons in Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Grant, and Okanogan. The case was sent by U.S. District Court to the state court for a ruling on whether the policy violates the state constitution, and whether libraries must remove the filter at the request of an adult patron. The matter now goes back to the federal court. The U.S. Supreme Court has previously upheld the Children’s Internet Protection Act.
Although the Washington State Library was not directly involved in the case, state Librarian Jan Walsh has spoken out in favor of allowing districts to adopt a filtering policy if they wish. The library services operated by the State Library within the Office of Secretary of State use filtering.
Walsh was pleased with the court decision:
“I am pleased that our state Supreme Court has handed down a strong, sensible ruling that gives our public libraries flexibility to reflect their community values as they adopt Internet policies and use of filters on certain content. It strikes a blow for kids and it strikes a blow for taxpayers.”